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February 22, 2013

Madison Heights moves to join tactical training consortium

Federally funded group will provide emergency personnel, equipment

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

MADISON HEIGHTS — The police have their limits and could be overwhelmed by large-scale demonstrations, barricaded gunmen, school shootings and terrorist situations. 

Recognizing this fact, Madison Heights Police Chief Anthony Roberts recommended City Council move to join the Oakland County Tactical Training Consortium, or OAK-TAC, a federally-funded partnership of nine governmental agencies that will provide Madison Heights police with specialized training for extreme situations, as well as extra personnel and resources to call upon in the event of an emergency.

City Council approved the measure at their Feb. 11 meeting. City Councilman Kyle Geralds was the lone dissenting vote. City Councilwoman Margene Scott was absent due to a death in the family.

The police chief said OAK-TAC membership will help his department during a crisis.

“We (already) have a Southeast Oakland SWAT team … that deals with incidents within our cities of Madison Heights, Royal Oak, Ferndale and Berkley,” Roberts said. “This training consortium expands from that … (with) approximately 100 protective outfits for officers, as well as barricades that we would have access to, which we do not at this time. So it’s expansive, beyond the SWAT team.”

Geralds had some concerns about OAK-TAC.

“I think that OAK-TAC is a program that uses federal funds from the Department of Homeland Security to militarize our local police forces to better wage war against the American population,” Geralds said. “It’s a response to peaceful protest like the Occupy Wall Street movement, and a fabricated threat of Islamic terrorism to Madison Heights and Oakland County. We’re being encouraged to join this association on the short-term promise that it doesn’t cost anything, in a lure from Lansing in order to gain back our lost tax dollars that we have to show regionalization, and this could be used to do so.

“The city has lived through the … turmoil and fear of the ’50s and ’60s, without the need of this association, and I don’t think it’s needed now,” Geralds continued. “The best way to deal with protests at the scale feared by Homeland Security is to just have a dialogue with protesting organizations, not to confront them with police force.

“So, I’m going to advocate our continued non-presence in OAK-TAC, for the long-term safety of this community, its officers and the impact of any possible blowback from treating protesters this way,” Geralds concluded. “I know it sounds kind of radical saying that, but it is with a lot of thought and sincerity I do.”

City Councilman Brian Hartwell said he appreciated Geralds’ thoughts, and asked the chief to clarify what type of events might require OAK-TAC assistance.

“This unit could be used for … occupy events, something that needs crowd control, (and) it could be used for a hostage situation, where it would overwhelm our agency, the officers on the road,” Roberts said.

As a follow-up, Hartwell asked if the city could hire outside groups on a case-by-case basis, should an emergency arise and the city not be part of OAK-TAC.

“Many of these events happen in a moment’s notice,” Roberts cautioned. “We wouldn’t have the opportunity to call a private organization to come and help us. We would respond, and then the other officers that we would seek assistance from would respond, as well.”

City Manager Jon Austin chimed in to emphasize a couple key points for council’s consideration.

“The most likely thing that would happen, and it has happened in Madison Heights over time during my tenure, is a barricaded gunman,” Austin said. “Now, sometimes those are in a contained area we can handle with our resources and just some support, but … just imagine it took place in a large facility, like a school, or like one of our commercial buildings where you have a lot of people to evacuate, and a large facility to cover. … That would probably be right up there, toward the top of the more likely events, because we have had those events, I’d say three to five since I’ve been here the last 20 years.

“The other thing that’s important is … to be able to turn out numbers quickly to an incident,” Austin said. “See, what you’re doing is you’re calling on these other folks that are available in your surrounding community to come help you right away, versus attempting to call your own police officers back in, who may be at their house or on vacation or someplace else. You’re drawing upon people that are really available, and that can get to a scene quickly, to help you deal with it quickly, just like a major fire when we rely on mutual aid.”     

The police chief felt the benefits were clear.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” Roberts said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.